The Day the Music Died [PHIL-OSOPHY]
On February 3, 1959, three iconic singers – Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and "The Big Bopper," J.P. Richardson – and their pilot Roger Peterson were tragically killed in an airplane crash that many refer to as the day the new sound of rock and roll changed forever.
Buddy Holly's band was on tour and had just played at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, and they were headed to their next gig. But instead of riding on the bus, they decided to take a charter plane because "The Big Bopper" was suffering from the flu and wanted to get to Fargo, North Dakota sooner to get some time to rest before the next show. "The Big Bopper" had swapped places with Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup had lost his place to Ritchie Valens in a coin toss. Talk about kismet!
A snow blanket and frozen vapor were advancing from the Rockies into the plains. The young pilot had very little experience flying in wintery weather. They took off at about 1 a.m. and soon thereafter, the plane was trapped in the core of a snow band, as the craft started accumulating heavy snow while beginning to lose altitude. Within minutes, the plane hit the ground at high speed with its nose down in a cornfield near Clear Lake, about 10 miles west of Mason City, Iowa. The right wing tip struck the ground first and made the plane roll across the cornfield. The lifeless bodies were thrown out of the craft and found nearby. The pilot was trapped inside the wrecked fuselage.
For the past 61 years, fans of Holly, Valens, and Richardson have been gathering for annual concerts at the Surf Ballroom, in Clear Lake, in memory of these departed artists.
The disaster was immortalized in Don McLean's No. 1 1971 hit "American Pie," that McLean brought to New Bedford's free waterfront concert, Rediscover Days, in the late '70s. I stood feet away from McLean, thinking about Buddy Holly joking to Waylon Jennings that he hoped his dammed bus freezes up again, to which Waylon Jennings jokingly replied, "I hope your ol' plane crashes."
I just couldn't shake that thought on this historic day in rock and roll music.
Phil Paleologos is the host of The Phil Paleologos Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PhilPaleologos. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.